The Romanian athlete Gabriela Szabo is one of the names that made history at the Olympics and World Championships and she counts amongst the greatest athletes of the last decades. Recently retired from the sport career, Gabi Szabo remains a symbol of overpassing one’s limits as she continues to be a fighter both for her own goals and the community’s.
As a child, Szabo participated in swimming and gymnastics. When it became apparent that she wasn't going to be good enough to make the Olympics, she switched to track. At the age of 13, Szabo was discovered by coach Gyongyossy Zsolt while dominating a 600m race. She then left her native Bistriţa to train at the prestigious Rapid Bucharest Sports Club. As a 15-year-old in 1991, Szabo won the European Junior 3,000m title, then went on to repeat that win in '92, '93 and '94. She also won gold (1994) and silver (1992) medals at that distance at the World Junior Championships.
She made a smooth transition to the senior level, winning bronze medals at the European Championships and the World Cup. And at age 19, she became the youngest World Indoor Champion in history, winning the 3,000m. At the 1996 Olympics in Atlanta, Szabo finished second to Russia's Svetlana Masterkova in the 1,500m. That silver medal was a great disappointment to Szabo, who had expected and promised gold. Earlier in the Games, she had failed to qualify for the 5,000m final -- an event that was considered her best chance for a medal. At the 2000 Games in Sydney, Szabo outkicked Ireland's Sonia O'Sullivan in the 5,000m to win the gold medal and erase the disappointment of Atlanta. Later in the Games, she came back to win a bronze medal in a tactical 1,500m race. Szabo has become so well-known in Romania that she finds it difficult to train at home. Instead, she has spent much of her time training on a farm near Potchefstroom, South Africa. While there, she can avoid media attention and train in relative seclusion, with only her husband/coach, her physiotherapist and cook nearby. On October 2, 1999, Szabo, 24, and her coach, Gyongyossy, 37, were married in Bucharest. They didn't make their much-rumored romance public until shortly before the wedding. Eventually, Szabo would like to devote more time to her family and less time to training. In 2004, after the contest in Birmingham, where she abandoned the race, Gabriela decided to retire. She was hardly believed. No special ceremonies were organized, quite because both the Federation and the supporters hoped that the athlete would change her mind. But Gabriela Szabo didn’t reconsider her decision. In the summer of 2006, during Romania’s international athletics championship, an official retirement festivity were organized in her honour.
The record of Gabriela Szabo: Junior World Champion for 3000 meters - Lisbon 1994; Bronze medal for 3000 meters - Helsinki 1994; Cross World Champion - team - Durham 1995; World Champion - 3000 meters - Barcelona 1995, Paris -Bercy 1997, Maebashi 1999 and 1500 meters - Maebashi 1999; Olympic Vice Champion 1500 meters - Atlanta 1996; World Champion for 5000 meters - Athens 1997 and Sevilla 1999; Winner of the Golden League Circuit in 1997 and 1999; European Vice Champion for 5000 meters - Budapest 1998; World Record for 2000 meters in 1998; Best Athlete of the World in 1999;· World Record for 5000 meters - Dortmund 1999; European Champion for 3000 meters - Gent 2000; Olympic Champion for 5000 meters - Sydney 2000.
Szabo's resume includes a silver medal in the 1,500m at the 1996 Olympics, gold in the 5,000m at the 1997 World Championships, gold at 1,500m and 3,000m at the 1999 World Indoor Championships, gold in the 5,000m at the 1999 World Outdoor Championships, and most recently, gold in the 5,000m and bronze in the 1,500m at the 2000 Olympic Games. In 1999, she was named Athlete of the Year by the IAAF, Track & Field News and Athletics International. She currently holds two world indoor records: 2,000m (5:30.53) and 5,000m (14:47.35). In 1999, Szabo swept all the 3,000m races in the seven-meet Golden League series, earning half of the $1 million jackpot awarded to athletes who remain undefeated through the series. She and Danish 800m runner, Wilson Kipketer each earned $500,000, and by the end of the year, Szabo had become the first female athlete to win more than $1 million in prize money in one year.
"Today I feel great when I walk on the street and people come and tell me « Thank you for what you’ve done». This means that my work was not in vain. This matters the most. At the world competitions I was representing Romania, which is a nation, so I had a responsibility and I didn’t want to disappoint those waiting, quite out, in front of the TV sets. When you appear there, you have a responsibility, you are not Gabriela Szabo anymore, but you are Romania. Only in grand prix it is you, but in world contests you are Romania."